28 February, 2010

A sad tale of schizophrenia

Christian Gillett had a long history of mental illness, developing from when he was about 14 years of age. It became obvious when he was in his late teens that he was suffering from schizophrenia. Over the years police had been called to his home on a number of occasions and in 1990 was admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital where he received medication.

In May 1991 19-year-old Christian attacked his mother with an iron bar, causing severe injuries. It seemed he was experimenting with acid, and was 'tripping' at the time. He was arrested by police and detained at Long Bay Jail where his diagnosis was confirmed, and he began taking Haldol. He was sentenced to a community treatment order through Mona Vale Hospital which required him to stay on this medication.

Mrs Gillett was no longer able to live with her son following the attack, but maintained close contact with both him and her husband Keith, who continued to live together in Surf View Road, Mona Vale. Keith was wheelchair-bound, being a double-amputee.

Late in 1997 it appears Christian began drinking regularly, and in April 1998 neighbour Natalie Rosa saw him running from his house just after 10:00am. At 10:18am ambulance officers at Narrabeen received a call summoning them to the Gillett residence. Police officers arrived first at 10:22am to find Keith lying on the floor behind his wheelchair, severely wounded. A mattock, which was lying a short distance away, was clearly the weapon that had been used. Keith had managed to make it to the phone to make a '000' call. He told police he had been attacked by his son.

Christian could not be found by police until he visited his mother's work at about 10:00am the following day, when they were able to take him into custody at North Sydney Police Station. The police conducted an interview with him, which was recorded, in which he was clearly delusional. He denied attacking his father, saying that it would be a horrible thing to do to a man he liked, so therefore he could not have been him.

Keith died ten days later in hospital during his recovery from the severe wounds.

When he first arrived at the jail he was described as "floridly psychotic" and it became apparent he was not taking his medication, in addition to drinking. He initially told doctors that he had no idea who hurt his father, and had no memory of the incident, but was sure he was not there at the time. Through interviews with his treating psychiatrist in jail, Dr Nielssen, it became clear that Christian had infact attacked his father. He had been hearing voices telling him that his father was planning to kill him. He told Dr Nielssen that he heard voices saying "Axe him". He was put back onto medication, and also anti-depressants to help him cope with the loss of his father.

Christian was initially charged with murder, but this charge was reduced to one of malicious wounding, as it was not entirely clear whether Keith died as a direct result of his injuries, or other medical complications. He pleaded not guilty, and a trial was held before a judge sitting alone, without a jury, at the request of the defence.

The judge was satisfied on the evidence that Christian inflicted the injuries upon his father. The real issue, of course, was whether he had a defence on mental illness. The psychiatrists called to give evidence at the trial agreed that at the time Christian wounded his father, he did not know what he was doing. And, if he did know what he was doing, he did not know that it was wrong, and that he should not have been doing it:

"He was aware of the nature and quality of his act but did not realise that the act was wrong, as he believed that his father was actually planning to harm him, and he was prompted by persuasive auditory hallucinations."

The Judge gave the 'special verdict' that Christian was not guilty by reason of mental illness, and ordered that he be detained in the Long Bay Prison Hospital under strict custody until he is considered fit for release.

In 2002 Christian was moved to the Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital, in a low-security cottage, as part of his preparation to be released back into the community. However he escaped from that facility in late 2002. He was considered dangerous and the public were warned not to approach him. He was eventually apprehended and returned to Long Bay Prison.

26 February, 2010

Racial tensions

In the mid-90's tensions had been rising in Sydney between youth gangs of two racial groups, namely Pacific Islanders on one hand, and local Aborigines on the other. By November 1995 there was undoubtedly some bad blood between the two.

At about 9:30pm on a Tuesday night, a group of Islander boys including Sautia and Norman were hanging around in Lethbridge Park, and wandered into a nearby shop. While they were in there looking around, the staff members were having some problems with three young Aboriginal men. The staff eventually asked the three men to leave the shop. Sautia and Norman then took it upon themselves to personally escort the three young Aborigines from the premises themselves. Naturally, this caused a bit of resentment, and a fight broke out outside the shop. Sautia, Norman and another friend of theirs Tarawa were in the fight on the Islanders side, and among the Aborigines were Morgan and Anthony.

The fight was eventually broken up, but not before Tarawa was hit by a bottle, apparently thrown by one of the Aborigines. Two of the Islander boys then back to Nikau's house, a friend of theirs, and told them what happened to Tarawa. Everyone was pretty fired up, so Nikau and the other two went over to a mate's place in Emerton, called Stenschke. After hearing the story, Stenschke said they were all going back to the Lethbridge shops, where the boys said Tarawa had been attacked. While they were there Nikau picked up a kitchen knife and put it down his pants. One of the others told him to put it back, but he refused.

Nikau, Norman and the others arrived at Lethbridge Park. Some were carrying metal bars, and Nikau still had the knife. Morgan, Anthony and other Aboriginal boys were already in the park, and when they saw the approaching group of Islanders, they grabbed some fence palings and ran off into a laneway. They didn't get much further, as the Islanders caught up with them and they were set upon.

During the fight Nikau ran towards Anthony, one of the Aboriginal group, with the knife in his hand. Nikau yelled at him, accusing him of throwing the bottle that hit Tarawa earlier. Anthony turned around to run, but Nikau caught up with him and stabbed him in the back. Sautia and another Islander then laid into Anthony with an iron peg.

Morgan, who also managed to suffer some quite serious wounds, was the only one besides Nikau to make a statement about the incident. Morgan didn't see Anthony get attacked with a knife from the rear, but said there were about four Islanders around Anthony holding him by the arms, while Nikau stood between them, punching him repeatedly.

Nonetheless Anthony was stabbed in the left lung, and his aorta and pulmonary artery were severed. He died at the scene. Morgan was lucky not to suffer any permanent damage.

After the fight, Nikau and the others returned to Stenschke's house in Emerton. At that point Nikau realised he no longer had the knife. He searched for it, but could not find it. He said "I never meant to get him that bad, but it went straight through."

Nikau was charged with the murder of Anthony, and the malicious wounding of Morgan. He pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter, and guilty to malicious wounding. The Crown accepted this plea, and he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of eight years for the manslaughter. For the attack on Morgan he received a fixed term of four years, to be served at the same time.

Nikau appealed his sentence, on the basis that the Judge had not given enough consideration to his youth, the fact that his inhibitions were significantly reduced by the amount of drugs and alcohol he had consumed before the fight, and also the ongoing racial tensions between the two ethnic groups that had led up to the fight.

The Appeal Court felt that while these factors go some way to explaining Nikau's actions that night, they certainly do not excuse them. The Court also noted that Nikau was already under a probation order when he committed this offence, and that the probation order had been imposed for, among other things, menacing a member of the public.

The Court felt proper weight needed to be given to the fact that one person was dead, and another was significantly injured, all because of the deliberate use of a knife in a public brawl. In particular the Court commented that "it was not going to stand idly by while members of conflicting groups worked out their social issues in street fights, armed with weapons". Nikau's appeal was rejected.

Paulo Nikau was due for release on 28 November 2003.

24 February, 2010

"If I can't have her, no-one else will"

Josef Plevac was a Czech immigrant who arrived in Australia in 1977 with his first wife, and daughters Eva and Martina. They divorced one year later, and he married his second wife Dana in 1984. They separated in October 1988. He remained living at their former home in Bossley Park, while Dana and their 5-year-old daughter moved into a flat on the 14th floor of a building in Parramatta. The marriage had been a violent one, and although Josef claimed to be on good terms with his wife, she had taken out a restraining order against him. She was particularly worried Josef would take Natalie away from her, and return to the Czech Republic to live with his mother and other family there.

In February 1989 there was a fire at the Bossley Park home, which destroyed it completely. Josef suffered severe burns and was in hospital for some time, and continued to have regular treatment for his burns. He was initially charged with arson, but the prosecution was later abandoned.

Dana was getting on with her life - she worked as a paymistress, and through this she met Timothy Sullivan. Tim had been in WA looking for a new job and a new home, and Dana had gone over to join him for some time. She came back to Sydney in September to make arrangements for a final move over to WA with Natalie to join Tim. Josef, who worked as a milkman, had also begun dating again, occasionally seeing a woman named Betty Corbis.

At about 8:30am on the morning of September 22nd, Dana and Natalie left their apartment. Dana would take Natalie to school as usual, then head off to her work. As they were making their way to the lift, they were surprised by a man wearing a balaclava. Before they could move, he doused Dana in petrol and set her alight with a match. Screaming, Natalie ran to the closest apartment and was pulled inside to safety. Dana fell to the ground and crawled into the lift. The building manager, alerted by the alarm system that there was a fire on level 14, pressed the lift button. When it arrived at the ground floor, the doors opened to he saw Dana "was very much alight and screaming for help. She came out of the lift, she stopped and she fell over and the flames blew up ... and she was lying there. She was pretty much burning."

Still alive, she was rushed to Westmead Hospital. Before lapsing into unconsciousness, she said she did not know who the masked attacker was, but she was sure it was not her husband Josef, or her boyfriend Tim. She could not be revived, and died in hospital later that day, as a result of third-degree burns to 90% of her body.

A resident of a 2nd-floor unit was about to walk down the stairs when she smelled smoke, and heard a woman crying for help. She saw a man who was naked from the waist up running down the stairs. She saw burns on his back and a bandage on his arm, and he was carrying clothing. He continued running out of the building.

Josef was pulled over by police on Woodville Rd, Parramatta at about 4.20pm that afternoon. He immediately denied killing his wife, and told police he had bought some petrol at a service station that morning, then headed to Katoomba where he had a haircut, before returning to Sydney to visit a friend. He told police he had not seen his wife for several days.

However at his trial he agreed he was in her apartment building that morning. He claimed that Dana still did his ironing, and he had arranged to pick up some shirts from her that morning before going to work. Because he didn't want to be seen breaching his restraining order, he said Dana had told him to wait in the stairwell. He did so, and took his shirt off, so he could put a fresh one on straight away.

Josef said that while he was waiting in the stairwell he heard his wife and daughter screaming, and when he opened the door he saw a man "in black - in blue tracksuit, towel over head - over neck, on the left shoulder, jumping and running down." He saw a fire and panicked, running back to his car. Many witnesses saw a shirtless man running in the area near the apartment, and Josef did not deny that this would have been him.

He then headed to to Katoomba where he went to a hairdresser at about 11:30am. The hairdresser was interviewed, and said that she detected a sooty-like substance in his hair. An assistant at the salon also said he smelt like petrol. Afterwards phoned Betty, and dropped in to visit her at around 3:30pm. She immediately remarked upon his haircut, as she'd seen him the night before. He said he'd had his hair cut in Fairfield. While he was there, he asked her to phone Dana's work for him. She did so, and was told what had happened. When she told Josef Dana was dead, she said he looked shocked, and said "I don't believe it. It can't be"

The police noticed some burns on Josef, and he said these were old burns, from the fire at Bossley Park back in February. A medical officer was called, and gave his opinion that the raw, weeping burns he saw on Josef's upper arm and left side of his chest and abdomen had occurred within the last 24 hours. Josef then agreed that he had received those burns that morning. He said "I saw Dana, and how she was holding clothes - it must have been my clean clothes, it was in the fire. I jumped towards her because I got bandage on my hand. I pull everything out and I must have been burnt, I don't know, and at that stage I completely lost it. I know now, but at that stage I lost it, panicked and I ran. I ran to my car."

Further evidence began to emerge regarding the state of the relationship between Josef and Dana. Eva, Josef's daughter from his first marriage, had visited him in hospital shortly before September 22, where he was receiving continuing treatment for the Bossley Park burns. She said Josef had found out about Dana's relationship with Tim, and complained that he wanted his wife back. He said he felt she had rejected him because he was scarred and ugly and said he wished "she could feel one bit of the pain he was in." Josef agreed he made these comments, but said he was referring to emotional pain, not physical pain. "I was thinking about pain which was in my heart and how I was missing her, nothing else. I didn't kill my wife, I am innocent and if they do a proper job they will find the real killer. That is all what I think."

Garage-owner Antony Valenti knew Josef, who was a regular customer and chatted to him often. Josef had said on many occasions "I can't live without her. I wont let her stay without me. If I can't have her, no-one else will."

The console-operator of a local service station also knew Josef as a regular customer, and said he had called in at around 6:30am on the morning of 22 September and bought about 15L of petrol, but he didn't notice whether Josef put it into his car, or a container. 15L was more petrol than would have fitted into the container found at the crime scene.

Natalie Plevac gave evidence at trial, and said she remembered a man splashing something out of a bucket upon her mother and that she went up in flames. The man said nothing, and she saw him go out through an exit door close to the lifts. She ran to get help:
"Q: Can you describe that man any more than in the way you have described him?
A: No
Q: Are you able to recognise that person?
A: Well sort of.
Q: What do you mean 'sort of'?
A: Well I could tell it could have been - it was my dad because, well my mum was wearing high heels and he was about the same height was her, and because of the build.
Q: That is as far as you can say that it could have been?
A: Well, and there was a phone call the night before and it was my dad."

In cross-examination Natalie confirmed that all she could remember was that the man seemed to be dressed all in black and she could not see his face, which was totally covered except his eyes, nor could she see his hair:
"Q: Now, would I be right if I said to you that when you saw that happen on the day you did not know who that man was. Would that be right or not?
A: Yes
Q: And would I be right in saying that you did not know who it was because, well I guess you did not see him for long enough, would that be right?
A: Yes
Q: Would it be right that there was nothing about him that you saw that brought to your mind any person that you knew?
A: No
Q: See, was it the situation that when you saw him on that day and got yourself into the unit of these other people, that you did not know who that man was. Would that be right?
A: Yes."
She confirmed that she told police that she did not know who the man was.

At trial the defence objected to any reference to the restraining order, submitting that it was not relevant to the case. Josef claimed that Dana had no fear of him, and that he had only agreed to the order because of her fear that he would take Natalie to the Czech Republic, which he said was completely unfounded. This was overruled, particularly in light of the evidence of several witnesses who had observed their relationship and testified that Josef had been particularly violent towards Dana. Josef stated "it is true that I called Dana by bad names, ill-treat her, but I was always sorry and apologised to her. I don't looking for any excuse because there is no excuse for my behaviour."

Tim Sullivan in particular gave evidence that Josef had previously tried to run him off the road. He said he was driving near Natalie's kindergarten, when Josef pulled up alongside him and swerved at him, causing Tim to mount the median strip to avoid a collision. The defence objected to his evidence, but was overruled by the Judge, who felt Josef's reaction, upon seeing Tim with Dana and Natalie, was relevant given Josef's statement that if he couldn't have Dana, no-one would.

Josef was convicted of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He immediately appealed the verdict. In addition to the objections mentioned above, Josef claimed he had been denied a fair trial because a letter written by Dana had not been used in his evidence, apparently at the advice of his lawyers. He stated that his mother sent him this letter in August 1994, saying she had received it from an anonymous person in Australia. It was an undated, typed letter signed "Dana" and addressed to "Jitka". Josef said Jitka Klasek was a friend of his wife's who was now deceased, and that he recognised his wife's signature at the bottom:

And why am I writing to you? I am now having problems with Pepa [Josef]. He will be going to court in three weeks over the house fire and the problem is in that he knows who has done it and also has evidence. For this reason it would be good if you could extend your holiday stay until such time that Pepa's court hearings are over. He now runs wild, searching for more evidence. You do not have to worry. I talked to Robert [Jitka's son] today and he would visit me on Friday with his friend. They already worked out a plan how to stop Pepa and get him finally to prison. As you know, Pepa is presently alone and everybody is against him. However, he trusts me and therefore it will be no problem. The only problem is with Natalie who talks about Pepa all the time and wants to be with him. However, she will forget about him in time, the same way Eva and Martina forgot [Josef's daughters from his first marriage].
When you ring me on the telephone please be careful because I do not know what Pepa is doing now. Even Pepa's solicitor does not want to talk to me any more about Pepa's problems and it takes me a bit of time to learn everything.
Make the best of your holiday and do not worry at all as I and Robert have everything under control. On Friday I will write you another letter about the outcome of all this.

The 'court proceedings' referred to are the arson charges relating to the Bossley Park fire, which were abandoned after Josef received the life sentence for Dana's murder. Josef felt this letter was proof of a conspiracy by his wife to frame him for her murder.

The Crown submitted that the letter was a fake. The Appeal Court found that Josef's theory was "quite fanciful", and that the jury would still not have acquitted him if they had seen it. The Court confirmed his conviction and life sentence, confirming the Judge's view that this was a "callous, planned and appalling murder."

In 2004 Josef Plevac applied to have his life sentence re-determined under the new "Truth in Sentencing" regime, which was brought in to do away with the existing sentences of 'life'. These life sentences were now thought to be too harsh for human beings, giving them no prospect of release, no light at the end of the tunnel to encourage them to rehabilitate themselves. Previously, almost everyone convicted of murder received a life sentence (i.e. for the term of his/her natural life), unless significant mitigating circumstances could be demonstrated. Now, only a handful of extremely serious cases warrant a life sentence. The Anita Cobby killers are one example.

Josef's lawyers pointed out that by now Josef had spent 15 years in prison, and was 56 years old. During his incarceration he had been a 'model prisoner'. He had completed a manufacturing and engineering program through TAFE, and received good reference from the prison workshop. He was described as polite, co-operative, and a good worker. He also completed a Christian instruction program and had references from an Anglican chaplain and a Catholic priest. His daughter Natalie was being cared for by his first wife, and had minimal contact with him, although he knew she was at university.

Nonetheless he maintained he is innocent of his wife's murder, and that she was involved in arranging the fire at the Bossley Park house, and wanted him dead. "The more Mr Plevac was questioned about the offence, the more evasive he became. Eventually he stated that he knew the true facts about the murder but could not disclose them to a government worker."

A psychologist reported that "he does not seem to have any social support and may be quite lonely. He is grieving over the loss of contact with his daughter from his second marriage as she is now in the custody of his first wife... Furthermore, he has to live with the fact that he is serving a life sentence when he claims he is innocent."

The Crown opposed Josef's application, submitting that the life sentence should stay in place, but if the court was going to set a non-parole period, the remainder of his sentence should still be for life, so that he is effectively on parole forever. The Crown reminded the court that the killing was pre-meditated and planned, with little regard to his daughter's safety, and the fact that Josef had taken active steps to hide his involvement by going to Katoomba to have his haircut, in order to destroy incriminating evidence, as well as distance himself from the scene of the crime. He had shown no remorse for his actions, and there was a risk he could re-offend, particularly if he became involved with another woman.

The Court granted Josef's application. It set a sentence of 25 years, with a non-parole period of 19 years. He appealed this sentence as still being too harsh, but the appeal was rejected.

Josef Plevac was eligible for release on 21 September 2008.

13 February, 2010

Greek Tragedy - Part II

Stephen Anas was also charged with Toula Soravia's murder, but he left for Greece less than a month after the shooting, before he could be arrested. He joined his ex-wife Laurie Sellis and her family in the city of Ioannina, seven hours north of Athens, and adapted his name to Stavros Anastasiatis. Police issued a warrant for his arrest through Interpol, leading to his apprehension in October 1995. The Australian government then attempted to have Anas extradited to Sydney to face trial, but this failed in 1996, as the Greek government said the Australian-born 33-year-old was now a Greek National. However, in a legal first, the Greek goverment honoured an existing treaty agreement and decided to put him on trial in Greece for his role in the killing, charging him with being the 'moral instigator' of the crime.

Anas was under strict bail conditions to report regularly to Ioanninan police, but in August 2007 he failed to do so, and disappeared to Athens. He was then due to stand trial in October 1999, but he claimed he was ill and needed to have his appendix removed, so the trial did not go ahead. It was next listed for May 2000, butAnas managed to avoid trial for the second time by signing up for Greek national miliarty service and joining the army. Upon discovering the legal situation (thanks to extensive negotiations between Australia's Federal Justice Minister and her Greek equivalent) the Greek army gave him leave to stand trial in June, however that trial collapsed.

The fourth attempt at trial began in January 2001, with Anas maintaining his innocence from the dock. Unfortunately the numerous delays had led to one witness refusing to return to Greece anymore, and the remaining eye-witness, Eugene Benitez, was running out of patience. He said he found the process intimidating: "I'll see how I go with this trial, this is bloody nerve-wracking." Benitez had identified Anas as the driver of the white Toyota.

Widower Louis Soravia, who had been fighting for seven years to see Anas tried for the murder of his wife, was also worried. "Its been sort of frustrating. This is the fourth time and definitely if something goes wrong it is hard to predict if we are going to be here next time or not". Although Louis was not a witness to the robbery and therefore not able to give evidence in Australian courts, he opened the case for the prosecution in Ioannina. When trying to tell the court of his 33-year marriage to Toula, and the devastating effect her death had had on his family, he was told by Judge Spiros Mexas to stick to the facts of the case. The defence, led by Ioannina Deputy Mayor Nicolos Gondos, tried to damage Louis' credibility by accusing him of beginning a relationship with another woman just two months after Toula's death. He also admitted he had received $50,000 from an insurance policy on Toula's life. Louis denied his new relationship (with Nicoletta, a Greek woman he married in 2000 in Sydney) began shortly after his wife's death.

Anas' ex-wife Laurie Sellis also gave evidence, maintaining that Anas was innocent, and that he was at home with her at the time of the shooting. She said they were "childhood sweethearts" who had been together since they were 15. Under cross-examination she was forced to admit that before the offence Anas had threatened to kill her, and that she'd taken out a restraining order against him. She also admitted there were problems in her marraige and that they had separated for a "brief" time. She took the opportunity to attack Louis Soravia, saying he had lied about the amount of insurance he received "First of all I know he is married, and I personally know he did not get $50,000. He got $200,000."

Judge Mexas threw out Ms Sellis's 'new' alibi evidence for her husband, saying "Why has it taken you five years to tell a court about this alibi? You have never mentioned it before." He read from previous court transcripts in which Anas claimed he had been at Instint with Jullio Quinteros at the time. She replied that if she had mentioned it in Austalia, Anas would have been breaking his restraining order. However the Judge said the order was not relevant in Greece and threw out her alibi. He also challenged her about other inconsistencies in her evidence.

Eugene Benitez gave his evidence that he recognised Anas as the driver of the getaway car, however ongoing problems with the translation from Greek to English and back again frustrated Mr Soravia, who kept interrupting loudly. He was repeatedly reprimanded by Judge Mexas for interfering with proceedings, and was eventually thrown out of the court. However the Judge later relented and allowed him back in. Benitez was questioned by Mexas: "How could you have seen the driver, when according to the sketch [of the scene] you have drawn for the court, and taking into account that you drive on the left-hand side in Australia, you could only have seen the passenger?" Benitez maintained he had seen Anas. The Judge also asked "In previous testimony you said that you saw the car for one second, now you claim you saw it for four seconds. Which is correct?" Mr Benitez replied "About four seconds."

In the earlier trials in Australia Mr Benitez had said he was wearing sunglasses when he made the observation, but in Greece he stated that they were not really sunglasses but glasses, and that he had also been wearing contact lenses. These inconsistencies led to his evidence being discredited.

NSW Detective Sergeant Jason Breton, who had travelled to Greece several times to give evidence in the case, was found to be ineligible under Greek law because he had previously come into contact with defence witnesses.

Anas eventually gave evidence, and accused Hakki Souleyman of framing him: "Everything Hakki said was a lie." He said Souleyman planned the robbery with Jullio Quinteros, who was a drug dealer: "Hakki knew that Quinteros was responsible but because of his drug addiction he needed Quinteros, so he framed me." Anas then claimed that on the morning of the shooting he was at a pub trying to buy drugs. This contradicted his earlier claim that he was at Instint with Quinteros, and also Ms Sellis' claim that he was at home with her. He was then asked about mobile telephone records that showed he was in the area of the shooting in Summer Hill at the time, but he told the court that Telstra records were wrong, and that this was a "common problem" in Australia.

Judge Mexas dismissed his explanations, saying "What you have said so far does not make any sense at all. We don't have the slightest evidence that Hakki or Quinteros had any connection to this incident. We find it difficult to believe that a friend of yours, a good friend of yours, could accuse you of such a thing. Usually a naive man like Hakki does not lie. He tells the truth." Anas then claimed that Souleyman framed him because he (Anas) was more popular with women - "probably because I am better looking."

In Greece, as throughout most of Europe, criminal trials are conducted under the Inquisitorial system, rather than the Adversarial system seen in Austalia, America, Canada, Great Britain and most other Commonwealth countries. Not only can judges ask questions and cross-examine witnesses, members of the jury are also allowed ask questions of the witness. The four jurors asked "The court has heard how when Hakki told you that Mrs Soravia had been shot, you said "I don't give a shit". Is that true?" Anas said No. He then launched an attack on Louis Soravia, saying he was "very powerful and very dangerous. If I don't get convicted I'll be dead in a month." He also said Louis was a "bad father", and forced his sons to "steal" from the service station because he gave them so little.

Louis and Toula's son Alex, who was a passenger in the car when his mother was shot at point-blank range, was devastated by the accusations levelled at his father. "I am very close to dad, I love him very much and I have a lot of respect for him. And the way they made my dad look was absolutely disgraceful... Its been pretty stressful... Just sitting there across from him and seeing the way he acts makes you realise what type of vermin of society that he actually is. I think in some ways, a conviction, after all we have been through, getting him in jail will be a win for us."

Judge Mexas then questioned Anas about inconsistencies in his earlier evidence, and asked him "So you say you love this country so much, and that you trust this justice system, how many times have you bothered to come to this country? Or is it true that you came here just one month after the murder?" Anas admitted it was true he had never been to Greece before this. He also stated he was allowed to leave Australia because the police did not have enough evidence to keep him there.

Anas' mother, who had travelled to Greece from Melbourne with his father, was next to give evidence. In what was described as bitter, angry and emotional evidence, she dramatically accused Louis Soravia of killing her other son. George, the younger brother of Stephen suffered from diabetes which led to his death in 1996, however she claimed he died after seeing his brother on TV during the investigation. "I feel sorry for Toula Soravia, but I hate her husband. He never came to ask me about my son. That man is the only person responsible for my son's death." She also accused Louis of lying over the amount of insurance money he received. She insisted Steve was a good, church-going son with strong family values: "I am a very proud Greek and I wanted my son to be a very proud Greek as well."

Judge Mexas asked Mrs Anas "Did your son ever take drugs?" She replied that "I have never seen anything like that." Judge Mexas then informed her that the court had evidence of Stephen's involvement with drugs. Mrs Anas also tried to support one of her son's alibis by claiming he had received a parking ticket on the morning of the shooting, however Judge Mexas told her the matter had already been investigated and there was no such ticket.

In summing up, the prosecution described Anas as immodest and arrogant. "This is a man who loves himself to death... He believes that he is intelligent, cool, good looking, and right about everything. He said he wanted to be tried under the Greek justice system because it was so fair. How did he know it was fair when he didn't even know Greece? He just went to Mykonos and Santorini for a holiday". The lawyer said Anas had told a "barrage of lies", painting a massive conspiracy involving the police, the witnesses, the media and the Soravias. "This is a man who grew up playing rugby, which is a violent sport, he loved fast cars, and he went to a very tough school where he said he got into a lot of fights. Therefore he became a very aggressive person. Even his wife said he threatened to kill her and that she took out a restraining order against him." He said Laurie Sellis "had lied through her teeth" when she attempted to give him an alibi.

Mr Katsantonis, one of the most revered lawyers in Greece, told the court Anas was a "smart-arse.. He sat in this court room and told all of us nothing of the incident but only of himself. He told us how he and Hakki had many girlfriends. He told us about his fast cars and what a good athlete he was. He has the typical behaviour of all immigrant criminals who believe that the police hate them, conspire against them, and always gets treated badly by the police." Anas frowned throughout, although earlier he had winked at family and friends, confident of the outcome.

Mr Katsantonis continued his tirade against Anas and his evidence. "Steve Anas' demeanour, his way of communicating, everything about him says 'shit, fuck off''. His parents came into court to tell us what a good kid he was, but when he wasn't believed by anyone in this court, they started blaming the Australian press. Anas even had the nerve to say why didn't Mr Soravia go find him and ask him what happened. However it was Anas who was twenty times obliged to go and tell him 'Louis, I'm innocent, I will help you find out who killed your wife."

The panel of three judges and four jurors acquitted Anas of all charges, by a majority vote of four to three (Judge Mexas and two jurors voted to convict, the other two judges and remaining two jurors voted to acquit). Mrs Anas rushed up to her son, wailing, thanking the Greek legal system and God for freeing her son: "This was God's gift". The presiding Judge, Spiros Mexas stated "Even though I found him guilty on both counts, the jury has ruled against my decision". Mr Soravia was numb: "I am in total disbelief by this court's acquittal." The Greek prosecution said it would consider an appeal, however Louis said it was time to "turn the page" and devote the rest of his life to his family.

As he was put in a van to be returned to military service in Samos, he shouted to his father that he loved him. He also asked that two bottles of whisky be delivered to the Greek police who sat beside him during the trial. Two days later, he flew to Athens instead, as he had been released by the Greek army from completing his military service, due to the time he spent in custody awaiting the trial.

He said "I want to get my life back in order and do everything right, by the law, and just get on with my life. I want to come back to Australia one day, of course I do. I am going to do that one day, whether I do it today, tomorrow, or the next day, I am going to do it one day. I am not scared... I've got to go back to bury my brother... People tell me they are writing that Australia's most wanted is free in Greece. How can I be Australia's most wanted? My God, I have a clean record... I feel I have been unjustly treated by the media and I hope something positive will happen now... I was kept in an army jail for, like, seven months and they said the army is finished for me. I can't believe I am free. Its been a really rough seven months, but I am free."

The news understandably angered Louis Soravia: "I can't believe it. He was supposed to do 15 months [national service]. This is a joke. Its an absolute joke." Anas refused to comment on Mr Soravia, but said "All I know is I feel sorry for Alex Soravia, what he went through is unbelievable. But I have been to hell and back too. Everybody who was involved in that crime, they deserve to be behind bars for the rest of their lives. That's it, you take a life, you lose a life, that's the way it goes. But it doesn't really concern me much anymore."

Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery said that Anas would face arrest if he ever returned to Australia: "This is not the absolute and automatic end to this matter."

12 February, 2010

Greek Tragedy - Part I

Stephen Anas had been a regular customer at his local BP Service Station in Summer Hill for at least two years. It was owned by Louis Soravia. He was good friends with console operater Hakki Souleyman, who seemed to harbour some resentment towards his employer. He had made some comments to a fellow employee Hedley about being ripped off by Mr Soravia and that he wanted to 'get him' one day, and that "I should get someone to knock me on the head when I've got the takings", but Hedley thought he was just "blowing off steam" or "mouthing off", which of course is not uncommon in employer-employee relationships, as we all know. Nonetheless, it seems Hakki may have harboured some resentment towards Mr Soravia.
Steve Anas took advantage of this, and began to discuss money handling arrangements with Hakki, and eventually talked to him about robbing the service station. Hakki's brother said in an early police interview that Steve was coming in once or twice a week and putting some pressure on Hakki, saying "we'll do the service station job.. its all organised, all planned Haks, you've got nothing to worry about. Just tell us what time they do the banking." One day Steve came in and showed him a small black pistol. He said it was just to scare people so they could take the money. According to Hakki he didn't know if it was meant to be loaded or not - all he was meant to do was let them know the time the Soravia's go to the bank.

At trial Hakki denied all knowledge that Anas was planning to rob the service station, or that he had even known or heard of Anas. Hakki's brother also recanted his statements to the police.
Steve Anas was also good friends with David Zammit through mutual connections at a window tinting business called Instint. It was unclear if Hakki ever met Zammit - he certainly denied any knowledge of him at trial. However there was the statement of a "Mr A", who was Hakki's cellmate in Long Bay, who said that Hakki told him he had met both Anas and Zammit before the intended robbery (along with a man called something like 'Julio'), and supplied them with the details they wanted. Hakki said he did it because he needed the money - he was behind in his car and house payments, and was not getting paid enough by Mr Soravia. He told Mr A that he was not supposed to know Zammit, but had seen him at jail visits and spoken to him on a number of occasions. Mr A said Hakki told him that he knew for sure that Zammit had shot his boss, and that Anas was driving.

Jail records confirmed that Zammit had visited the jail at the relevant times, and that the two had opportunity to speak. But the jury never heard Mr A's evidence, as it was considered too prejudicial for a number of reasons (these included the fact that Mr A had a criminal record that included dishonesty offences; that he had been diagnosed with a severe personality disorder that apparently made him prone to pathological lying; and general law that states that the uncorroborated evidence of an informant who hoped to receive a discount in his own sentence is unreliable).
At around 9:30am on 26 April 1994 Hakki spoke to Anas on the phone, and gave him important information about the contents of the till, the times the banking would be done, and the colour and make of the car Mr Soravia would drive to the bank, carrying almost $7,000. Unfortunately on this day, Mr Soravia asked his wife Toula a favour - that she would bank the takings for him. She agreed, and took his car.
At about 11:00 am, Toula left the service station with her 17-year-old son Alex, heading for the Westpac Bank with the weekend's takings. Just as they pulled up outside the bank, Zammit leaned in through the passenger-side window, pulled the pistol from the front of his pants and pushed it against Alex's head. Alex instinctively brushed it away at first, not realising what it was. Then he saw Zammit leaning into the car, holding the gun in his right hand. He yelled "where's the money? Where's the money?". Toula began to scream. Zammit leaned further into the car, across Alex, and pushed the pistol against Toula's cheek. Alex tried to hit Zammit's arm away. Zammit continued to shout at Toula and threaten her, then Alex saw him shoot his mother. The car filled up with smoke. Toula died almost instantly from her head injuries.

Zammit grabbed the bag of cash and ran across the street, where he was picked up by the driver of a white Toyota Corolla. Some passers-by gave chase, one of them yelling "stop him, he's got the money", but were unsuccessful. Ricky Patman was in his car at the time and tried to chase the Toyota, but was cut off by a garbage truck. Anthony Mimica also joined the pursuit but was similarly foiled by the reversing garbage truck. A bus driver saw the white Toyota swerve around the garbage truck and hit a speed bump, causing its exhaust to hang down. As the car raced off, it nearly collided with Eugene Benitez, who yelled at the driver. Zammit looked out of the passenger window and swore at him.

Eugene was less than a metre away from the car at the time, and later positively identified Zammit from police identification photographs and videotape. He said Zammit's haircut was different, but on seeing the face, he said "bingo". Alex Soravia also positively identified Zammit from police photographs, stating "yes, that's the one I saw. There is no doubt whatsoever. I could never be more definite of anything in my entire life. The photo of that man ... is the man that took my mother's life, that is the fact I will live with until the day I die."

Several witnesses described one of the offenders wearing pink-soled running shoes, and mirrorred sunglasses with a cord. Both these items were found during a search of Stephen Anas' home.

The white Toyota Corolla was recovered on 27 April in St Peters. The number plate (partially damaged) was SDO 359, which matched the details supplied by Ricky Patman, as well as two other witnesses, and its exhaust pipe was hanging down. Police found that the car was used in connection with the Instint window tinting business.
Jullio Quinteros, the owner of Instint, said that when he left the workshop on 23 April, the white Toyota was there, but was absent when he returned to work on 26 April. However, he did notice that Steve Anas's motorbike was parked on the footpath. Anas and Zammit arrived at the shop between 12:30 and 1pm.
Zammit claimed he had been to Instint on the 25th April, but on the morning of the 26th he was at home with his mother. He said he spoke to a couple across the road - Andrew Rice and Melissa Borland - and a neighbour, Jackie Loveridge, and spent the afternoon at Michael Atsis' place. Rice said he'd seen Zammit at his gate at 11:00 am, and Loveridge said she spoke to him from 11:05 to 11:20am. However both were discredited when it was discovered they had criminal records for dishonesty and misleading police. Melissa Borland has no recollection of seeing Zammit. Michael Atsis refused to speak to police and could not be found to call as a witness. Zammit's parents also refused to speak with police.
At trial, the defence tried to discredit both Alex Soravia's and Eugene Benitez's positive identification of Zammit, saying that they must have seen news items showing the Identikit sketches put together by other witnesses. However it was apparent that these sketches bore little resemblance to Zammit, and had been perhaps confused with some of the chasers at the scene. Defence also submitted that Alex was too distressed to have seen the shooter properly, and Eugene had only a "split second" to see the man in the car. Both these arguments were clearly rejected.
At Hakki Souleyman's first trial, he was charged with accessory before the fact of murder, however the jury was unable to reach a verdict, telling the judge they stood deadlocked at 11:1 in favour of finding Souleyman guilty. At the second trial he was acquitted altogether of that charge, but found guilty of the lesser offence of being an accessory before the fact of armed robbery, and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in April 2000.

David Zammit was convicted of the murder of Toula Soravia (pictured below), and sentenced to 24 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 18 years. He was also sentenced to ten years for the armed robbery.

Stay tuned for Part II - the trial of Stephen Anas.

11 February, 2010

Are opals really bad luck?

Lauri Oinonen was a 62-year-old opal miner from Lightning Ridge. He was good friends with a woman named Donna Wood, and had a good relationship with Donna's grandson Deakin, who also lived in town. But some of his opal had gone missing recently, and he was becoming suspicious that Deakin might have been involved. On Tuesday, Deakin popped in to see Donna, and said he'd heard Pop (Lauri) might be looking for him.

Donna said to him "Well Deakin, you said you went and pinched that opal", and Deakin replied "Yeah, we did."
"You stole that opal, didn't you Deakin"
"Yeah, that's why I thought that Pop was looking for me"

Deakin had been drinking and playing chess with Lauri the day before, but the issue had not come up.

Later that night Donna saw Lauri at her sister Yvonne's place, where he was 'on the turps' (literally - drinking methylated spirits) as well as drinking beer. He'd been drinking all day at another friend's place (Ada Morgan) but said "I must have been fairly drunk at Ada's, because, like, after that I can't remember at all." Later Lauri was chatting to Yvonne's daughter Lisa, who told him about Deakin stealing the opal. She said "Deakin must have pinched the opal from you." He replied "No, he wouldn't do that." She said "Yes, I think so, because he had plenty of money." She said she had seen him with $1,600.

Lauri had no memory of going home, but assumes he took Eddie Morgan home first "because when I got home myself, there was a didgeridoo in the car. I think that must belong to him." When he got home he checked his opal stash, which he kept in a Strepsils tin, and found that there was quite a large stone missing. "Then I realised it must be true what Lisa Bolton has told me, and I find it hard to believe at first, but I have to believe it." He drank more methylated spirits and ruminated on these things "but I don't remember exactly what time I went to sleep." He woke up about five the next morning and made his morning "metho drink", which was a cup of boiling water, coffee, 2 spoons of sugar, and metho. He added more and more metho to the cup, then made himself another one. After that he had run out of coffee, so he made one with lemon concentrate and a lot of sugar.

He decided to go to Deakin and confront him about the opal. "I thought if I take the rifle with me and then ask, he will take me seriously. I didn't want to hurt him, but I wanted him to confess that he took the opal. He said it did not cross his mind that he might hurt him:
"Q: And when did you think about taking the rifle?
A: Just before I went there.
Q: After you had started drinking?
A: Yes
Q: Why did you load the gun?
A: Well, what good is it to take an empty gun? I would have taken a walking stick instead. If I had taken a walking stick with me, it would have been as effective as an empty gun."
It never occurred to him not to load it.
"Q: Didn't you think that taking the gun there loaded and cocked that Deakin might get hurt?
A: To me its safe unless you pull the trigger. What, I can't see what can happen unless somebody pulls the trigger.
Q: Did you put the safety on?
A: No I didn't.
Q: Did you think about putting the safety on?
A: Didn't think about it.
Q: How did you feel physically when you left that morning?
A: I was feeling much better than I was feeling when I woke up."
He put the gun on the backseat of the car.

He drove to Colin Nagy's house on Potch St, where Deakin was staying over with Colin's sister Jenny. Colin was woken at about 6:30am by Laurie telling hm to go wake Deakin up. Lauri said he "went to the door. Only the screen door was closed, the wooden door was open. And I knocked on the screen door and said 'Anyone home?' I did that twice. And then there was no answer. I walked in the lounge room and from there I seen the end of the corridor bedroom door was open and I said 'Colin' a couple of times. Then he turned around and I said 'Where is Deakin?' He said 'Deakin's sleeping in the next room there.' I said 'Can you wake him up and tell him I want to see him outside?' Then he got up and I walked out." Colin went into his sister's room and woke Deakin.

Deakin didn't take long to get up. He came out the front gate close to the car. Laurie said "I opened the back door and took the rifle and went to the front close to him and I pointed the rifle from my hip and said 'You done a dirty trick to me. You stole opal from me.' He said 'No, I never.' I was pretty angry. I did not think about harming him." Deakin moved over near the fence "so that the car was between us" and they were both moving backwards and forwards, on either side of the car. "Then he stooped down and I couldn't see him for a while and I was looking this way and that way, I didn't know which way he was going, and then I seen him over at the car, no, I was actually level with the bonnet part of the car when I seen him running, disappearing behind the corner."

"When I saw him next I just hit - lifted the rifle and put it on my shoulder and pointed to him, to his direction" and the rifle went off.
"Q: Do you know how it went off?
A: No, but I was kind of surprised when it went off.
Q: You told the police that you pulled the trigger.
A: I must have pulled the trigger because otherwise it wouldn't go off."
Lauri said that was what was in his mind when he was talking to the police:
"Q: Did you actually know when you spoke to police that you pulled the trigger?
A: No, but I knew my finger was inside the trigger guard all the time.
Q: Do you know now whether you pulled the trigger?
A: No, I still don't know.
He was asked how his hands were and he replied "oh I was shaking because I got pretty upset when he said 'no, I didn't do it."

After that "I chucked the rifle on the backseat and took off ... I was too scared to go around the back because Colin and Deakin would have been in the house and I didn't think they would have taken it very lightly that I fired a shot."

Colin Nagy was on the toilet when he heard the gunshot. He hopped off and raced outside to see Lauri putting something in the back of his stationwagon and speeding off. He saw Deakin lying on the lawn about 10m from the house, and ran over. Deakin was still breathing. Jenny also came running out, and both tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for about five minutes, but he just died in their arms. They rolled him over and saw the gunshot wound in his back.

The post-mortem revealed Deakin would have been 2-3m away from the muzzle of the gun when it discharged. Ballistics experts for both the Crown and Defence tested the weapon and found if the rifle was not cocked, there was no way it could discharge. Similarly, it would not fire if the safety catch was on. It was an old weapon, made in the 1930's and quite a bit of force was required to activate the trigger. It did not fire when the trigger was wriggled around back and forth or side to side, and not when slammed into the shoulder. However it did misfire accidentally on one occasion when it was dropped from a height, and once when it was belted with a hammer.

When Lauri was asked "do you know what happened when the rifle discharged?" he said "no, that is unclear to me."
"Q: Have you any idea how the rifle actually discharged?
A: In my opinion I must have pulled the trigger otherwise it wouldn't discharge.
Q: You don't remember doing that?
A: No.
Q: Did you ever mean to pull the trigger?
A: No
Q: Had your rifle ever accidentally gone off before this time?
A: No.
He was asked about his state of intoxication at the time of the shooting and he said "I was definitely drunk." He said that he knows he is responsible for the death of Deakin.

Donna Wood remembers Lauri coming over early on the Wednesday morning, pretty upset. She knew he'd been drinking a lot of metho in the last six weeks or so, pretty much day and night. The first thing she remembers him saying was "I fired a shot at Deakin. Can you go up there and check him out and see what happened?" Donna's husband Reg told him not to tell lies, or something to that effect, and Lauri said "Its not bullshit, it really happened, go and check him."

Donna said "We jumped into the car, myself, my husband, and we drove up there to where it happened" They left Lauri on their veranda and took his stationwagon. They saw the gun on the back seat. It didn't take long for them to establish what had happened at Potch St. Donna left Lauri's stationwagon there, and got a lift back home. She told Lauri "You killed Deakin. He's dead." Lauri started to cry. Someone got him a beer, and shortly after, the police arrived. Lauri kept saying "Oh I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do it. It wasn't supposed to happen. I'm very sorry... Deakin was like me own grandson." Lauri later said in evidence that he still feels very upset about Deakin's death, and that they had been good friends for five or six years.

Lauri was put on trial for murder. He pleaded not guilty. He agreed he deliberately loaded the cartridge in the rifle, cocked it, and left the safety off, but said he only meant to scare Deakin, and never meant to pull the trigger or hurt Deakin. He called many witnesses to testify to his good character and non-violent nature. Donna Wood gave evidence that in all the time she had known him she'd never seen him violent, and described him as a very honest person. Her husband Reg had known Lauri for 10-15 years and said "he seemed a fairly honest person to me since I had known him."

Reverend Poklea also gave evidence that he had known Lauri since the 60's in Mount Isa, and often asked him to mind their house when he was away. He knew he had difficulty with drinking. When asked if he was a violent man, he said "No, I have never seen him angry. I have never seen him show any - he was always helpful."

The Crown case was that when Deakin managed to break away from the argument and run around the side of the house with his back to Lauri, Lauri lost his chance to confront Deakin any further, at which point he chose to raise the rifle to his shoulder and point it at Deakin. In the Crown's view this couldn't be just "to scare him", as Deakin obviously couldn't see Lauri. The Crown told the jury that Lauri intended to fire the weapon, and reminded them that he had deliberately left the safety catch off. And further, you wouldn't fire a weapon at someone's back unless you meant to hurt them.

Medical experts estimated that Lauri's blood alcohol would have been about 0.4 to 0.45 at the time of the shooting, which is normally the "embalming" level (i.e. you're dead). Since it was clearly self-induced, the jury could not take it into account when deciding whether he accidentally fired the weapon, but they could take it into account when deciding whether he meant to hurt Deakin. (Aah, the technicalities of the law.. basically his drunkenness only matters for what he's thinking, but not what he's doing. Go figure.)

Lauri gave evidence that his drinking problem started before he was 19 years old, but only started drinking methylated spirits a couple of years back, initially to cure his hangovers in the morning. He only started to get drunk on it that year. "Not only metho, but I used, when I was in town, I used to beer or some whisky sometimes and some brandy, but I did not bring any alcohol to my home and later in the evening I would drink metho." He agreed he was drinking it constantly in the weeks leading up to the shooting.

Colin Nagy told the jury he'd known Lauri for a few years, and knew he was an alcoholic, but said he could handle it - even after a lot of drinks he was the same as everyone else, and had often seen him drive a car quite well in that state. Donna Wood also knew he'd been on a metho-drinking binge for a few weeks, and had been drinking various types of alcohol almost constantly. She was quite used to seeing him drunk. She agreed he was drunk on the Wednesday morning at her house, and still later at the police station. She gave the following evidence:
Q: He still appeared drunk to you?
A: He appeared drunk to me.
Q: And distraught?
A: Yes, even more so, all the time.

Donna Wood's husband Reg agreed that Lauri seemed pretty drunk when he arrived on Wednesday morning. However the arresting police officers did not observe him to be drunk, saying that Lauri walked steadily, had no difficulty getting up into the Landcruiser, and understood all the questions and responses. Senior Constable Bowra thought he appeared normal at the station, and was rolling his own cigarettes with ease but said "he may be a little hung over, a little tired."

Nevertheless Constable Thomas stated "When I first saw him there was no sign of intoxication whatsoever, but later at the station, he appeared to be withdrawing from some of the effects of intoxication, in that sometimes he would have the shakes. He was very lethargic in the dock. He appeared to me to be having the DT's." During his official interview when asked about what happened, he replied "I'd rather not talk about that because I'm still half-cut." Later in the morning he began vomiting at the police station, and was treated by paramedics for dehydration, and given anti-nausea treatment. He vomited again later in the afternoon and was then transferred to Walgett Hospital.

Dr Moynihan, an expert in this area, said that for an ordinary person to consume that amount (and type) of alcohol, they would hardly be able to move. "But a person who was used to drinking high levels of alcohol would tolerate that type of drinking without too much trouble and given the drinking history of this gentleman, although his blood concentration I feel to be quite high, he would be intoxicated, but he would be able to tolerate it." He said such a person would know what they were doing. "For example, if you tell someone off which you normally wouldn't do perhaps the alcohol gives you what might be false courage to do things, or Dutch courage. It takes those inhibitions off. So you know what you are doing but its just that you are no longer restrained because the alcohol takes the brakes off." The Dr also noted that vomiting can be a reflex action from emotional trauma or an acute anxious state.

In cross-examination Lauri agreed that apart from actually pulling the trigger he remembered almost every single detail of what happened on the morning of the shooting, and apart from firing the rifle, he knew exactly what he was doing, and that his intoxication did not affect his ability to know what he was doing. He said that when Deakin started running, he was running very fast. He said he lifted the rifle up and pointed it at Deakin's back. He was looking along the barrel and could see it was aimed at Deakin's back. He denied that he deliberately shot Deakin to stop him from running. He said it all happened it a second. "I knew most of the things I was doing but I was drunk and if I had been sober I wouldn't go to see Deakin with the rifle and probably not at all.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, on the basis that Lauri did not intend to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm, but had committed an "unlawful and dangerous act" i.e, threatening Deakin with a loaded gun. He was sentenced to 11 years prison, with a non-parole period of eight years.

Lauri appealed his sentence, arguing that he should have been treated as if he meant Deakin no harm at all, given all the evidence of his good character, and that the Judge was wrong to state that it was one of the most serious cases of manslaughter. However the Appeal Court agreed with his Honour's assessment, given that Lauri sought Deakin out, primed for a fight, with a loaded weapon which he had deliberately left unsafe.

Lauri also felt that not enough consideration had been given to his personal circumstances, such as his age (62 years) with an almost clean criminal history, in addition to his offer to plead guilty to manslaughter before the trial began. The Appeal Court agreed with this point, and felt that he had demonstrated remorse. Accordingly, they reduced his sentence to nine years with a non-parole period of six years.

Lauri was released on November 5, 2002.

Bad Blood

Eanoel Odisho had three daughters: Jaklin, Shokriya and Janet. Jaklin was married to a man named Fouad Eskaria, Shokriya was married to Elia Toma, and Janet to George Hanna. They were all of Assyrian descent, and had lived in Iraq for some time before migrating to Australia. Fouad and George were also related to Mr Odisho by blood, as well as marriage. Elia, however, was not a blood relative, and tended to be treated as a bit of an outsider. George and Janet lived in a top-floor unit in Nelson St, Fairfield, with the rest of the extended family living close by.

On 30 August 1996 a wedding was held, which most of the family attended. After the festivites Elia drove Mr Odisho and some other relatives home. In the car, Elia and his father-in-law Mr Odisho began arguing, and did not stop when they arrived at Mr Odisho's home. Shokriya and their children stayed at her father's house and did not come home with Elia. The next day they went to stay with George and Janet in Nelson St, and did not return home for some time.

Many of the witnesses at trial gave conflicting evidence, and the jury was forced to resolve the inconsistencies as best they could. It appears that on 4 September Elia drove to the Nelson St unit, armed with a knife about 8.5cm long. The Hanna's were at home, along with Shokriya and also Jaklin. Elia blasted his horn, at which his wife and the others came out to the balcony of the unit. Angry words were shouted to and fro, including a threat from Elia to Jaklin that he would "make [her] a widow tonight". Jaklin shouted back that if Elia wanted to fight Faoud, he could be found at a nearby shop. Shokriya agreed to come downstairs, and she and her husband started walking towards the shop. George Hanna decided to drive to the shop to warn Faoud that Elia was on his way.

At the shop there were many Assyrians drinking coffee and playing cards. Elia tried to fight Faoud but both were physically restrained by other people. The shop owner told them to get out, as he didn't want any trouble. Elia agreed to leave and went back to Nelson St with his wife to collect his children, and the Toma's all went home together. Faoud and some other men from the shop went back to the Hanna's unit at Nelson St. Faoud was still enraged at Elia, so he grabbed his club lock out of his car and made his way through the backyards of some adjoining properties until he arrived at Elia's home. Faoud shouted some insults at Elia and challenged him to come out and fight him. Faoud's friends, and Shokriya, tried to talk him out of fighting Elia.

Elia grabbed two steak knives, a rock and a table leg (plus the knife he already had) and met Faoud in the backyard adjacent to his. People again tried to restrain them, but they both broke free. In the course of the fight Faoud hit Elia with the club lock, and Elia threw the rock at Faoud. It missed, and Elia proceeded to use the three knives. Faoud was stabbed twice. One would penetrated his heart, and he died in hospital two days later.

At the trial Elia did not give evidence, but raised self-defence and provocation, and submitted that he did not intend Faoud serious harm, and that it was an accident. These factors would have enabled the jury to return a verdict of manslaughter, or even possibly a not guilty verdict in the case of self-defence or accident. However the murder conviction made it clear they rejected all these factors. The Judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 13 years and six months.

Elia appealed his conviction on two grounds. First, that the Judge had been incorrect in telling the jury that Faoud's death was not merely an accident, and secondly his Honour had effectively discouraged the jury from finding that there was provocation. The defence at trial claimed that Elia had not intended to kill or seriously harm Faoud, and that the fatal wound had been inflicted by Faoud moving forward onto Elia's knife, or that a third person trying to break up the fight had accidentally caused Faoud to fall onto the knife. However, the Crown case was that Elia had deliberately thrust the knife into Faoud, as opposed to merely holding it near him, say, in a threatening manner. The Judge's direction to the jury was that if they were satisfied Elia intended to seriously harm or kill Faoud, then the result could not be considered accidental. The Appeal Court found no problem with this comment.

In terms of provocation, the Judge made the following comment to the jury: "Most of you have probably lost your temper at some stage, but nowhere near the extent that you were inspired to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on the person who is the source of your irritation." The Appeal Court thought that this was reasonable to explain the level of provocation required to reduce the charge to manslaughter.

Finally Elia appealed the harshness of his sentence, saying that the Judge was wrong to reject the report of a Counsellor who said he was "full or remorse for his actions". The Judge found no evidence of remorse in any statements Elias made to Police, the Counsellor or any other people, and that the comment was merely the opinion of that Counsellor. His Honour was entitled to form his own opinion on the evidence, and the Appeal Court agreed.

Elia Toma was due for release in March 2009.

An argument about rent

Michael Grant was not in a good way, financially and physically. His health was poor, suffering from both hepatitis B and hepatitis C as well as a damaged liver, and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic depression. He was prescribed valium and codiene phosphate, which did little to alleviate his pain, and contributed to his existing drug and alcohol addiction. In 1996, he invited Neville Lees to move in with him to help out with the rent, however this did not pan out particularly well, as Neville quickly fell behind in rent payments.

After Neville had been living with Michael for about a month, they began arguing about the rent. Michael had already taken his valium and codiene, and Neville had also decided to have some valium. Apparently the bickering between the two men had been going on for some time, and Neville complained that Michael was constantly hassling him, or "dribbling in his ear" about money for rent, as well as for beer, pills and pot. Neighbours heard sounds of a struggle coming from the flat, as well as banging, yelling, swearing, and glass smashing. Someone called the police, who arrived to find Neville standing over Michael, trying to pour water over him. Michael had no pulse, and paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Police searched the flat and found the bathroom mirror smashed, and the towel rack pulled from the wall. Blood was all over both items, and splashed generally around the walls of the flat. An 80cm stick was also found on the bedroom floor. Neville's knuckles were bruised and scratched.

The post-mortem showed Michael had extensive injuries to his head, neck, arms, hands and lower back. The more serious injuries included haemorrhages on the surface of the brain, several cuts to the face, a broken nose and a broken rib. He also had bruising most likely caused by a rod or piece of wood. Michael's blood had substantial levels of codiene, morphine, valium, alcohol and cannabis.

Neville was interviewed at the Police Station, and said that Michael had punched him in the mouth during the argument about money, and he'd hit back. He said he'd lost control after Michael made a comment about Neville's father, who had hanged himself a few years earlier on Christmas Day. Neville had been the one to find the body and was naturally still quite distressed about this, harbouring a lot of anger towards his father. He said Michael had tried to counsel him a few times about this, but he was sick of people bringing it up.

After a trial in September 1997 Neville was convicted of murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 13 years and six months. Neville did not deny killing Michael, so the main issue at trial was provocation. If the Crown could not deny that provocation occurred beyond reasonable doubt, the jury would have to convict Michael of manslaughter instead of murder. However, the jury clearly decided that the combination of Michael's nagging about money, the punch in the mouth, and the alleged comment about his father's death were not enough, and returned a verdict of guilty of murder. Because we never know what goes on in the jury room, we cannot say whether they disbelieved Neville's evidence, particularly about the comment regarding his father's death, or whether they merely thought his combined actions were not enough to warrant him being killed.

Neville appealed the conviction, claiming that the way the Judge directed the jury before they retired to consider their verdict encouraged them to think Michael's comments were not provocative enough to justify Neville's response. However an examination of the trial transcript showed that this was not the case.

Neville also appealed his sentence, on the grounds that the Judge had not given enough consideration to his youth (he was in his 20's) and his rather deprived background, including violence at the hands of his father, the suicide, and the drug and alcohol abuse. Once more, the trial transcript showed that the Judge had taken these factors into account, and shortened his non-parole period accordingly. Although these aspects were mitigating features for Michael, they had to be balanced against the seriousness of the offence, which the Judge described as "one of the most hideous crimes of murder that I have encountered."

Neville Lees is due for release in February 2013.

Money and Friends

Elizabeth Cox and her sister Annette had known Simone Hill for some time, and they were all now in their late teens. 17-year old Simone had loaned Annette some money, and unfortunately, as is often the case when money and friends mix, tensions between the Cox girls and Simone began to rise.

On Thursday December 18, 1997, Simone went to visit Annette at her East Maitland flat. She had been drinking, smoking pot and doing speed for a good part of the day, so was fairly high when she arrived at Annette's in the mid-evening. Annette's flatmate Tracey was also home with her boyfriend, and the four of them continued on drinking, smoking, and the rest.

That evening, they hatched a plot to lure Simone over to Annette's on the promise that they had the money she was owed. It was never clear who actually came up with the plan, although Tracey was the one to phone Simone and invite her over. It seems that part of the plan was to hurt Simone in some way, to teach her a lesson, although this was never entirely clear.

Simone, perhaps sensing the imminent danger, arrived with some friends of hers, a couple. Of course, Annette did not actually have the money she owed, and after a short time, Simone and her friends left. Naturally there was some verbal sparring between the girls, with various insults thrown back and forth. This continued as Elizabeth followed Simone and her friends out to the car. Although they intended to drive away, one last remark from Elizabeth prompted Simone to get back out of the car and challenge her. At this point Elizabeth pulled out a knife she'd been hiding and stabbed Simone once in the stomach.

Simone's friends raced her to Newcastle Hospital, but despite emergency surgery, she died four days later of internal bleeding.

Elizabeth threw away the knife, and concocted a story along with Annette and Tracey to fool the police, however this was fairly swiftly brought undone, and the knife was located.

Elizabeth eventually pleaded guilty to murder in the Newcastle Supreme Court. The Judge took into account the fact that she was only 18 years old at the time, and that she had not intended to actually kill Simone. He stated that her aggression was fueled by the fairly large quantities of alcohol and drugs she had consumed during the previous 12 hours or so, and this had lowered her inhibitions. This was of course an explanation for her behaviour, but not an excuse, and he sentenced her to 16 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 11 years.

Elizabeth appealed this sentence on the basis that it was too severe, because the judge had not taken into account the fact that she had pleaded guilty (sparing the time and expense of a trial), she had no prior criminal record, and that she would be separated from her baby son (born after the murder) for quite some time.

The Appeal Court found that Elizabeth's baby would be well cared for by her parents, who would bring him to visit her frequently, and that unfortunately being deprived of the company of loved ones was one of the tragic consequences of imprisonment. It must be remembered that Elizabeth had deprived Simone Hills parents of ever seeing her again.

However, the Court found that the Judge had failed to consider her lack of criminal record, and her plea of guilty, which showed she had accepted her actions, and was remorseful. Her sentence was reduced to 14 years, with a non-parole period of nine years.

Elizabeth was released on June 22, 2007.

10 February, 2010

A Callous Remark

Colleen Sharpe lived with her husband in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains. She was 53 years old. About half-way through 1995 she met Arthur Whitmore, a 66 year old man who also lived in the area. They began an affair, meeting secretly at both their homes, whenever possible. Arthur moved to the Central Coast later in 1995, but they continued their affair, meeting up in Katoomba frequently. Mr Sharpe was completely unaware of the liaison between his wife and Mr Whitmore.

On 25 April 1996, Colleen flew to Brisbane to visit a relative, and arranged with Arthur that he would meet her up there. They came back together on the 29th, and Colleen decided it was time to come clean and tell her husband what was going on. She phoned him at work, and when he came home, he found her packing her clothes. Not long after, Arthur arrived at the Sharpe's house, and he and Colleen left together.

However the next afternoon, Colleen rang her husband and said she would be coming home. A few minutes later the phone rang again, but this time it was Arthut Whitmore calling to tell Mr Sharpe in no uncertain terms that Colleen would not be returning home to him. Mr Sharpe was concerned, as he could hear his wife in the background stating that she would be going back to him, and Arthur replying aggressively that she would not. Arthur rang the Sharpe home once more later that evening, stating again that Colleen would not be coming home, and later Colleen also rang, agreeing that she would not be coming home after all.

The following morning, just before 8:00am, Colleen telephoned Mr Sharpe again, and said that when she returned to Katoomba, she would be staying with her friend Grace Rogers. The call was then abruptly terminated. Mr Sharpe, correctly as it turned out, interpreted this as a coded message from his wife, since Grace Rogers was a mutual friend of theirs who had been murdered some six years earlier. Mr Sharpe immediately went to the police station and reported the situation. He returned home shortly before 10:00am, whereupon he recieved yet another phone call from Arthur, this time telling him that his wife was dead. Mr Sharpe hung up the phone in shock, but Arthur rang back again and invited Mr Sharpe to come around and collect his wife's body. The Judge described this "as callous a remark as one could imagine".

Arthur then phoned his sister and complained to her that despite "all he had done" to arrange a pension for Colleen, and for her to move into his house, she had threatened to leave. Accordingly, he shot her between the eyes with a pistol at point-blank range.

When the police arrived and placed him under arrest, he told them Colleen had assaulted him, and then demanded money in exchange for sex. It later emerged that he had been convicted in 1968 for maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm upon his wife at the time. At that earlier trial he stated that his wife had been aggressive towards him regarding sex, and had victimized him with her demands. Needless to say that jury did not believe him and convicted him of the offence.

Following a guilty verdict in his trial for the murder of Colleen Sharpe, Arthur was sentenced to a total of 25 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 15 years. He appealed that sentence, as he objected to the Judge's conclusion that he had a dangerous habit of attacking women when problems arose in their relationship. He also told the Appeal Court that the Judge had not taken into account his advanced years, which in his view meant he should have received a lighter sentence. Finally, he rather gallingly suggested that his sentence was too severe for what he described as an "ordinary domestic murder".

Needless to say, the Appeal Court rejected all these points. They found there was little to be said in favour of Mr Whitmore. He clearly intended to kill Colleen, merely to vent his rage, and had shown no remorse for his actions. Furthermore, the judge had infact taken his age into account by setting a lower than normal non-parole period. Finally, the suggestion that it was an "ordinary domestic murder" was rejected out of hand.

Arthur Whitmore is due for release on the 30 April, 2011.


Back when I was a practising criminal lawyer, one of the most frequent questions I would be asked by friends was whether I was working on any murder trials, and of course, what they were about. It came as a shock to my friends to discover that I was usually working on several, and moreover that they had heard nothing about these cases in the papers.

Now this is not a criticism of news organisations or their editorial decisions. All I wish to do here is tell some of those untold stories, as well as those you may have heard bits and pieces about, but are not sure what happened in the end. It is always tragic when a life is lost, particularly at the hands of another, be it accidental or deliberate.

Another question I was frequently asked by friends, was to explain why a conviction had been overturned on appeal, or why a trial was suddenly starting all over again. Of course these usually involve quite complex matters of law, and understandably these technicalities are more often than not left unexplained. What I will attempt to do here, for those who are interested, is ditch all the legal jargon, and try and tell it like it is.

As my starting point, I have collected a year's worth of decisions from the NSW Supreme Court. These homicides all took place in the 1990's. Most were never reported, although the occasional case may ring a bell to some of you. Of course, in most cases, for a judgement to be handed down by the Supreme Court, the trial ended in a conviction. This means I will be dealing with approximately (and i emphasize approximately, as I'm not a fan of statistics) 60% of the cases dealt with that year.

I hope you find it interesting, and I look forward to reading any comments or questions you may have.

Stay tuned....